ANN ARBOR, MI – The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, yesterday filed a petition in the United States Supreme Court, requesting the Court review the constitutionality of a New Jersey school district policy that banned the performance of traditional Christmas music in the district’s public schools. [Click here to read petition]
The challenged policy banned the performance of Christmas music, including simple instrumentals, during year-end holiday concerts; it forced the high school brass ensemble to “eliminate” “traditional carols” from its “repertoire”; and it banned the Martin Luther King (MLK) Gospel Choir, a student organization, from performing at the high school holiday assembly for the student body because the choir sang religious songs. The new policy went so far as to remove from any “printed programs for any Holiday concert” any “graphics which refer to the holidays, such as Christmas Trees and dreidels.”
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center, commented, “This anti-religious policy is yet another example of the militant hostility that many public schools have towards Christians and Christmas. These school districts have embarked on a program to eradicate any reference to Christianity because that religion is a major stumbling block to their political indoctrination of our children.
Since at least 1960, Christmas music had been a part of the Christmas holiday traditions in the New Jersey school district. In fact, a year before the new policy was enacted in 2004, the school district held a December holiday concert that included such traditional religious songs as “Joy to the World, ” “O’Come All Ye Faithful, ” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, ” and “Silent Night.” Under the new policy, these traditional Christmas songs are now banned.
As a result of this ban on Christmas, in December 2004, TMLC filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Michael Stratechuk and his two children, who were students in the New Jersey school district when the policy was enacted in 2004. A federal district court judge in New Jersey found that the policy was constitutional, and his decision was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In their decision, the Third Circuit stated,
“Certainly, those of us who were educated in the public schools remember holiday celebrations replete with Christmas carols, and possibly even Chanukah songs, to which no objection had been raised. Since then, the governing principles have been examined and defined with more particularity. Many decisions about how to best create an inclusive environment in public schools, such as those at issue here, are left to the sound discretion of the school authorities. We see no constitutional violation in Policy 2270 or its application in this case. We will therefore affirm the decision of the District Court.”
The Supreme Court petition was drafted by TMLC Senior Trial Counsel Robert Muise. In the petition filed with the Court yesterday, Muise argued:
“Christmas is a national holiday, and religious music in the public schools is one of the rich traditions of this season. The Third Circuit’s opinion, if left unchecked, will ensure the demise of this tradition, and it will embolden those who use the Establishment Clause as a blunt instrument against religion to continue to do so. Consequently, this case is about much more than holiday music. It is about halting the proliferation of government policies and practices that disfavor religion. A decision with such potentially broad and troubling implications merits review by this Court.”
Thompson echoed the concern: “Traditional Christmas music has long echoed in the halls and auditoriums of our Nation’s public schools, reflecting our national celebration of this holiday season. Unfortunately, our recent history has not been so favorable to this holiday and its traditions. Even the word ‘Christmas’ itself is becoming a forbidden expression—a casualty to the forces of political correctness that consider it enlightened, if not outright fashionable, to remove all traces of religion from the public domain. If we do not stop these policies now, it is likely that they will continue to spread across our Nation like an anti-Christian virus. This is an important case; it will likely decide the fate of one of our most cherished traditions.”
Muise added, “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s flawed Establishment Clause jurisprudence has promoted—and in many respects, encouraged—anti-Christian policy decisions by school boards all across the country, including the one challenged here. This case presents an opportunity for the Court to abandon its much maligned jurisprudence in favor of one that respects our Nation’s religious heritage and traditions.”
The New Jersey school district policy at issue in this case was featured in a book, The War On Christmas, by former Fox News anchor, John Gibson.